Never Say Never

“I would never say never. You never know, but I think we all know what’s going on. We’ve all seen what’s developed. At the end of the day, I think it’s time to move on. And I’m okay with that.”

Roberto Luongo said those words at the end of the 2012 season when it seemed like his tenure in Vancouver was over. We all know the story, the Canucks tried to deal Luongo, but he stayed with the team last season and was involved in a season long goalie controversy. Luongo, who was always the biggest target of fan criticism, became a sympathetic character and possibly the most beloved Canuck. I have stated many times that I would miss him when he’s gone because he was a very funny guy and a classy individual. Well, it looks like he’s staying because the Canucks decided to trade Corey Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th pick in the draft that turned into Bo Horvat.

Fan reaction has been mostly negative towards this move. Many feel this is a panic move from GM Mike Gillis who realized he overplayed his hand and couldn’t get anything for Luongo. Another complaint against this trade, which is also my biggest gripe, is the amount of return for Schneider. When this trade was announced on TSN’s draft coverage, Pierre McGuire said the Canucks could have squeezed more from the Devils. I have to agree, the Canucks should have been able to squeeze at least another draft pick in the mid to later rounds, if not another prospect in the Devil’s system. Semyon Varlamov was the last example of a young starting goaltender traded and the Washington Capitals were able to get a first (11th overall) and a second round pick from Colorado in the trade. Although Varlamov is younger than Schneider, he is not as proven and hasn’t been able to put up consistent numbers in Colorado yet. Schneider is a better goalie than Varlamov. The Canucks failed in the trade because they didn’t get the maximum value of return. Horvat may turn into an excellent player, but the rate of return was still too low.

There have been a lot of questions about if Luongo will return to the Canucks. I feel this is ridiculous because Luongo has shown that he is a true professional. There’s no doubt that he was shocked at the news of the Schneider trade, but he should be happy that he can finally play again for a playoff team. I know he’s lives in Florida, but staying in Vancouver is a much better situation than playing for the Panthers if you want to play meaningful hockey. I feel Luongo’s biggest desire is just to play hockey and he’s going to get that chance again. My bigger worry is how the fans are going to react. Vancouver Canuck fans can act unreasonably, even bordering on idiocy, at times. The riots after the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 are the biggest example of Canuck fan idiocy. Another example of Canuck fan unreasonable behaviour is their love for the backup goalie. This all started way back in the early 2000s with Dan Cloutier and Bob Essensa. Essensa, nicknamed Backup Bob, played behind Felix Potvin for a chunk of the 2000/2001 regular season. Potvin did not play well, but Essensa did and that drew a lot of fan praise and attention. When Potvin was eventually traded and replaced with Dan Cloutier, there was a question of which goalie should and would get the start for the playoffs against the mighty Colorado Avalanche. Coach Marc Crawford gave the nod to Cloutier in game 1 and the fans were not happy. This love of the backup goalie continued in the cries of Johan Hedberg should replace Cloutier a few years later. This kept going with the push to have Corey Schneider become the starter after Luongo’s struggles during and after the 2011 Cup run and then tilted the other way when Luongo became Corey’s backup. The love for backup goalie Roberto Luongo started in the first game of last season.

Like every goalie, Luongo is going to have some bad games next season. Canuck fans have a habit of cheering the pulling of their goalie and I feel that’s going to happen again. Luongo is going to get pulled after having a bad game at Rogers Arena, the fans will cheer him being pulled, and we’ll have some fans calling for the backup to become the new starter and how Luongo is terrible. The only reason why Luongo became the sympathetic character and the fan’s choice to be the starter was because he was the backup goalie. Now that he’s the starter again, we’re going to hear fans complain about how he’s not an elite goalie and he can’t win the big game. The Luongo love is going to end, get ready for the return of the Luongo hate.

One positive thing found in the Schneider trade is the immediate cap relief the Canucks will get. They will get rid of Corey’s $4 million cap hit and won’t be spending over $9 million in the crease anymore. When the Canucks finally buyout Keith Ballard, they will have more than $8 million in cap room, something that seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago. To make this Schneider trade worth it, the Canucks need to sign a forward who can help right now. It may be Danny Briere, Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla, or Vincent Lecavalier. All those players bring different things to the table and have their positive and negatives, but the bottom line is the Canucks need more depth at forward. It will be a real stretch to assume Horvat will make the team this season and the Canucks need help right now. Since they didn’t get immediate help through the trade, they will have to use the cap room to get some.

Another take on this trade is that it benefits the Canucks in the long run. That has some truth, Horvat is a highly touted prospect and he adds a lot of talent and name in a very bare Canucks’ prospect cupboard. However, keeping Luongo on the books will have repercussions that will be felt for years to come. Luongo is 34, but is signed until the 2021/2022 season when he will be in his 40s. Under the new CBA, a retired player’s contract will still count against the cap. That means, unless Luongo is able to be an elite goaltender until his early 40s, the Canucks are going to have a $5.3 million cap hit for a player who isn’t going to be on the roster. This dead cap space is an absolute killer and I’m afraid that it will cripple the team in the future. Canucks management couldn’t have foreseen this change in the new CBA, but it happened and it will haunt the team eventually. However, if Luongo is able to lead this team to a Stanley Cup victory, then it will be worth it. This trade looked like it improved the future, but that isn’t the full case.

I’m sad to see Corey Schneider go. I had accepted him as our number one goalie and was even very close to buying a Schneider jersey before last season. I am glad I chose to hold off and now Schneider is going to the Devils. Leave it to Vancouver to keep the goalie controversy alive even after trading one of the net minders away. Anyone who was glad to stop hearing about the Canucks’ crease will be disappointed; this story is going to continue.

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